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Exhibition from the Breuer archives at Syracuse Architecture

February 17, 2011

Mary Kate O'Brien
(315) 443-2388

The exhibition “Marcel Breuer and Postwar America” opened on Feb. 15 in the Slocum Gallery at the Syracuse University School of Architecture.

breuerThe show was curated by Syracuse architecture students as part of a seminar on the Bauhaus architect taught by visiting professor Barry Bergdoll, the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, with Jonathan Massey, Syracuse Architecture associate professor and undergraduate chair. The exhibition is the outcome of their work in the extensive Breuer archive at the Syracuse University Library Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). It features images of 120 drawings, as well as photographs, documenting 13 of Breuer’s major postwar buildings and projects. Full-scale reproductions highlight themes that characterized some of Breuer’s lesser-known major work and document his responses to the needs and opportunities of postwar American society.

Breuer (1902-1981) was a leading figure among the second generation of modernist architects, whose striking designs for furniture, houses, institutions and commercial buildings helped to set the shape and style of modernity in Europe and the United States, leading Time magazine to characterize him as one of the “form givers of the 20th century.” His works include the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

The exhibition runs through March 29 with a closing reception on March 22 at 6:30 p.m. in the Slocum Gallery. The reception follows a lecture by Pippo Ciorra, senior curator at the MAXXI Architettura, Rome, in the Slocum Auditorium at 5 p.m. Students and faculty will give a series of gallery talks focusing on key themes within the exhibition:

  • Thursday, Feb. 17, 5:15 pm: Designing the Breuer Exhibition
  • Thursday, Feb. 24, 5:15 pm: The Materials of Modern Architecture
  • Thursday, March 3, 5:15 pm: Symbolizing Postwar Institutions
  • Tuesday, March 8, 5:15 pm: Designs for Modern Communities

“Breuer’s archive is a great resource for understanding how modern architecture transformed between the 1920s to the 1970s. As the students worked through parts of the collection, they found drawings that illuminate the way Breuer gave form to the materials, institutions and communities of postwar America,” says Bergdoll.

“The experience of working with a scholar of Bergdoll’s stature doing primary research drawing on archival materials provided a vivid academic experience. We are delighted to partner with the University Library to generate this project,” says Mark Robbins, dean of the School of Architecture.

“This exhibition demonstrates the capacity of collaboration to activate the potential of the research university,” says Massey. “Connecting students with the Breuer archive and its archivists allowed them to do primary research and generate new knowledge about modern architecture.”

Along with Bergdoll and Massey, staff from the SCRC assisted students with the development of the show. The installation was designed by Jon Lott, assistant professor and principal of PARA-Project. Graphic design is by Brett Snyder, assistant professor and principal of Cheng + Snyder.

“Marcel Breuer and Postwar America” was produced and supported by the School of Architecture as part of a collaboration with the Syracuse University Library and its SCRC, directed by Sean Quimby. In 2009, the library received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to create a digital edition of part of Breuer’s papers, which he began donating to the University in 1964. The SCRC is completing a web design for the digital edition of the archive, planned for release in December 2011, allowing students, architects and scholars around the world to continue the research initiated with the current exhibition.

“I am pleased that the library’s NEH grant enabled us to bring Breuer’s work to light and provided the spark for this ongoing partnership with architecture faculty and students,” says Suzanne Thorin, dean of the University Library.

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